This is the Best Planeswalker From Shadows over Innistrad, no its not Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Happily, Wizards have now shown us all of the bumper, four-strong crop of planeswalkers that we’ll be hoping to find in our prerelease pools in a few weeks, and that means it’s time to run the rule over the new boys and girls and see how they shape up. I’m going to be ranking the four newcomers from worst to best – enjoy!
I’ll level with you – I am not a fan of that art. That’s beside the point though – there’s a great big wordy text box to read!
So… It ticks up and draws a card. So far, so reminiscent of Ob Nixilis, Reignited. There’s the upside that you might get a few points of damage in rather than paying a life to get your extra card, but that’s not that impressive of an upside when you’re paying an extra mana to get into play.
On to the minus then… Well… It kills something. So far, so very Ob Nixilis-y. On the plus side, this does gain life, but on the downside it costs considerably more loyalty to kill a high toughness creature. The ultimate is fairly spicy but simply doesn’t provide the same inevitability that Ob’s ultimate does. A single Kozilek’s Return undoes all of the hard work in one fell swoop.
Colour me unimpressed. Indeed, colour me as unimpressed as Sorin looks with his new picture. Now, I will say that I’m hearing rumblings from Commander players that this guy is a bit of a beast in casual circles – that honestly isn’t my area but if you prefer to play your Magic on the kitchen table, there may well be plenty here to investigate. If you’re like me and like to get your games in over a tournament table, then there’s less to be excited by. I simply can’t think of many contexts where I’d rather play this than Ob Nixilis, which does much the same things, in the same colour, at greater efficiency.
Whilst at first glance Nahiri does many of the same things that Sorin and Ob Nixilis do, her ability suite is a bit different. For starters, the plus ability doesn’t actually net you a card, which is bad, but it does turn on Madness and is still a solid enough way to gradually improve your hand if Nahiri survives. You’re paying a relatively meagre four mana to get her onto the field, so you can’t expect quite as much from her, after all.
Her minus is actually quite interesting, and makes this new card much harder to evaluate than her fellow new planeswalkers. The requirement for a creature to be tapped means you need a degree of set up to get value (if not a very big degree) and it is possible for a savvy opponent to play around this simply by refusing to attack. If there are any staples of the new format with vigilance, that’s also a big strike against Nahiri and, well… You’ve seen the new Avacyn, right? That said, the potential to exile two creatures in consecutive turns is very appealing, and if they simply refuse to attack into the second activation, you can tick Nahiri up and sculpt your hand a little bit more.
The ultimate is pretty intriguing. Let’s forget about Magical Christmasland scenarios where Nahiri sticks around for two turns before casually dropping an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn onto your opponent’s face – that’s not a consistent enough proposition to be a realistic game plan. You can still get a ton of value out of it though – getting two hits out of great enters-the-battlefield abilities is very enticing, and I’m pretty excited by the idea of teaming her up with either Goblin Dark-Dwellers or Dragonlord Atarka. Neither necessarily wins the game on the spot but in any remotely even boarding position you’ll get a huge swing in your favour, and it’s possible to make that happen as early as the third turn after you’ve cast her.
My problem with Nahiri ultimately lies in the fact that creating a board state where she comes down, kills something, and then gets to do it again is actually quite tricky. If your opponent has multiple threats in play, then you kill one and the other simply takes Nahiri, at a mere two loyalty, out the next turn. So in order to make sure she gets to stick around you need to have a good blocker out before you drop her into play – and if that’s the case, then your opponent won’t be attacking you anyway!
There’s a fair bit of work to do to achieve maximum value from her so I have a healthy degree of scepticism about her viability in constructed – but on the other hand, she ticks all the right boxes for a top-quality planeswalker: she protects herself, impacts the board immediately, creates snowballing advantages if she stays in play, and even provides a way to get rid of redundant copies in hand – something only Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil have done efficiently so far. You may recognise them as the two most powerful planeswalkers ever printed, so maybe I’m being too harsh on Nahiri. Either way, I’m definitely sitting on the fence for this one until I’ve had a chance to test her out.
Anyway, time to move on to planeswalker number three! And because Wizards’ design team have a justifiable reputation for willingness to explore new and exciting design space, at least there’s no way it’ll just be another ‘walker that simply ticks up to draw a card and down to get something off the board, right?
I’m starting to get a little concerned that Wizards’ creative team are going to run out of synonyms for “Jace, Brainy Person” soon, but once more we have a card that reaffirms that the game’s most popular character is, indeed, rather clever – and the card seems pretty smart to me too.
When this was first spoiled the initial reaction I saw from a few players was, well, “isn’t this a bit boring”? I’ll certainly acknowledge that none of his abilities exactly drift into uncharted design territory, but if you love playing control, there’s a lot to be excited by here.
Let’s start at the top: +1, Scry 1, then draw a card. That’s a pretty promising beginning for anyone who enjoys snowballing card advantage. “Draw a card” would already be great but ensuring that you draw a higher percentage of gas each turn means that if this guy sticks around things will get out of hand for your opponent very rapidly. Happily, his -2, which bounces a creature, helps to make sure you get to untap with your shiny new Jace unmolested.
In a dedicated control deck, a typical sequence of turns would be to cut your opponent down on threats for a few turns with removal and counterspells, then drop this whilst they’re down to one threat. Bounce that, then after they redeploy it you can simply untap and start drawing into removal spells to keep Jace alive and allow him to start taking the game over completely. A curve of Languish into Jace, Unraveller of Secrets seems very hard to beat indeed.
Jace’s ultimate is no joke either – if you get that emblem into play with a full, Jace-fuelled, grip of cards, it seems essentially impossible for your opponent to get back into the game.
One of the other implications of the new Jace is that any hopes of the much-overhyped Narset Transcendent finally breaking through seem very thin now we have what is in many regards an upgraded option. The comparison between Jace and Narset very clearly highlights how crucial it is for planeswalkers to be able to protect themselves the turn they come into play. Every single planeswalker to see significant constructed play has been able to keep itself safe whilst you’re tapped out – Jace does that, and Narset doesn’t. She may be one mana cheaper, but Jace has a much better chance of survival and an immediate impact on the board – Narset did come in with a high loyalty but even if she stuck around for a few turns there was no guarantee you’d draw any cards at all. Looking at these two cards side by side, the comparison isn’t very flattering for Ms. Transcendent unfortunately.
There’s only one reason I can think of for the new Jace not seeing a ton of play – and that’s the typeline. Unfortunately he shares a planeswalker identity with his baby “brother”, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It’s tricky to justify playing both cards alongside each other and Unraveller of Secrets will have a hell of a job on to displace Telepath Unbound.
And now, last but very definitely not least…
That is a lot of abilities! And that’s a pretty great start because more abilities means more options, and more options means more angles to approach the game from and more ways to gain value.
Once again, we see that she ticks the key box of protecting herself the turn she comes into play, by making a 2/2 token that can block any problematic attackers. From there on in she can flip between Lightning Bolting an opposing creature and creating another threat for several turns, which definitely qualifies as snowballing card advantage. And once you’re ahead, she starts turning all of those little 2/2s into genuine beating sticks.
It’s hard to see any midrange deck in the appropriate colours not wanting to play Arlinn Kord. She stabilises the board superbly well in the midgame and then helps turn a good position into a game-winning one very swiftly. Curving Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into Arlinn also sounds like a fantastic turn three and four, and that’s a tag-team I expect to see on plenty of playmats come April. In fact, I’m picking Arlinn out as the best planewalker of the bunch and almost a lock to see heavy competitive play, assuming there’s anything approaching a good red-green shell for her to slot in to. She presents a fantastic range of good options for keeping control of the board, and once you’re ahead she buries the game rapidly – and at just four mana, you aren’t even being charged a premium. If that isn’t a recipe for the best planeswalker in the set – and for a major constructed staple – I don’t know what is! If you see a playset available at a good pre-order price, I’d definitely recommend picking that up, because I expect there to be some seriously high demand for her once Shadows of Innistrad finally hits stores.
Of course, any evaluation of new cards is inherently flawed without the full context of the format, and with spoiler season far from over there could be any number of new cards that completely change the way I perceive any of the new planeswalkers. Right now, though, it’s very hard for me to imagine a world in which Jace, Unraveller of Secrets fails to see play, and almost impossible to envisage Arlinn Kord being anything other than a major Standard staple.
Community Question: So what do you think of the list? Would you have ranked the planeswalker from Shadows over Innistrad any differently? If so then please let me know how you’d rank them from worst to best below in the comments!
That’s it from me this week – enjoy the next batch of Shadows of Innistrad spoilers, and I hope you all open a bunch of shiny new planeswalkers come the prerelease! Let’s just say I’ll be keeping an eye out for any Arlinns being tucked into trade binders…
Thanks for reading,